Help! My Co-Worker is Bad Mouthing Me


I have been employed at a VA hospital for almost 10 years and although things have improved somewhat, there is one specific co-worker who tries to hog or minimize my hard work. I have received awards including a Nurse Excellence Award for going above and beyond my job performance while she will lie about tasks she has supposedly done. She is always trying to outdo me and talks down to me in front of our colleagues. I ignore all her comments for the most part but, at times, I do say to her, “I’m doing what I think needs to be done” and walk off.

I have been responsible for making fair workload decisions so everyone can share the work equally, and our previous manager approved and supported that decision. That only made it worse for me because said co-worker and her clique went through pains to bad mouth and shun me. The clique is mostly gone now but she continues her toxic behavior any chance she can. I have tried and continue being nice and courteous to her, but I would like for her behavior to stop altogether. I don’t know what else to do.

Having won awards in your field, clearly you are very good at what you do. Yet, you are focusing not on your powerful and important achievements, but on the opinion of one co-worker. In the process, you are letting her control this situation, which is affecting both your job and your personal satisfaction. Your co-worker is either scared (and deeply insecure) or lazy. Maybe both. And though it doesn’t feel like it, she’s afraid of you so she’s trying to minimize you at every opportunity. Remember that her behavior may be out of your control — but how you let it affect you is totally within your control.

The best way to deal with people like your co-worker is to try to see them as the fragile people they are. Bring the empathy you use every day as a nurse to the table and try to make a human connection. Create a safe environment for the two of you to have a conversation and try to develop a better understanding of what makes her tick, what makes her angry and what she’s afraid of. Start by admiring the thing you see as her greatest strength and begin the conversation from there. Ask her opinion about what works and what doesn’t work in the organization.

Chances are she’ll be stunned by the fact you opened the dialogue; and if you catch her in an unguarded moment you may immediately start to see a shift in the power dynamic. Initially you just want to build some trust and begin a conversation. Don’t lay out a laundry list of grips and frustrations at the onset. In fact, if you build a dialogue slowly and thoughtfully over time, you may never have to go there — you just may change the whole energy dynamic of the relationship without having to put her on the defensive.

Imagine what you perceive as the greatest fear you have of reaching out to her. Then embrace it. Our greatest fears are seldom ever realized. And they lose the power they have over us when we confront them and shine a light on them.

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